My Cousin the Colonel
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Mrs. Wesley frequently embarrasses me by remarking in the presence
of other persons—our intimate friends, of course—"Wesley, you are
not brilliant, but you are good."
From Mrs. Wesley's outlook, which is that of a very high ideal,
there is nothing uncomplimentary in the remark, nothing so intended,
but I must confess that I have sometimes felt as if I were paying a
rather large price for character. Yet when I reflect on my cousin the
colonel, and my own action in the matter, I am ready with gratitude to
accept Mrs. Wesley's estimate of me, for if I am not good, I am not
anything. Perhaps it is an instance of my lack of brilliancy that I am
willing to relate certain facts which strongly tend to substantiate
this. My purpose, however, is not to prove either my goodness or my
dulness, but to leave some record, even if slight and imperfect, of my
only relative. When a family is reduced like ours to a single
relative, it is well to make the most of him. One should celebrate him
annually, as it were.
One morning in the latter part of May, a few weeks after the close
of the war of the rebellion, as I was hurrying down Sixth Avenue in
pursuit of a heedless horse-car, I ran against a young person whose
shabbiness of aspect was all that impressed itself upon me in the
instant of collision. At a second glance I saw that this person was
clad in the uniform of a Confederate soldier—an officer's uniform
originally, for there were signs that certain insignia of rank had
been removed from the cuffs and collar of the threadbare coat. He wore
a wide-brimmed felt hat of a military fashion, decorated with a
tarnished gilt cord, the two ends of which, terminating in acorns,
hung down over his nose. His butternut trousers were tucked into the
tops of a pair of high cavalry boots, of such primitive workmanship as
to suggest the possibility that the wearer had made them himself. In
fact, his whole appearance had an impromptu air about it. The young
man eyed me gloomily for half a minute; then a light came into his
"Wesley—Tom Wesley!" he exclaimed. "Dear old boy!"
To be sure I was Thomas Wesley, and, under conceivable
circumstances, dear old boy; but who on earth was he?
"You don't know me?" he said, laying a hand on each of my
shoulders, and leaning back as he contemplated me with a large smile
in anticipatory enjoyment of my surprise and pleasure when I should
come to know him. "I am George W. Flagg, and long may I wave!"
My cousin Flagg! It was no wonder that I did not recognize him.
When the Flagg family, consisting of father and son, removed to the
South, George was ten years old and I was thirteen. It was twenty
years since he and I had passed a few weeks together on grandfather
Wesley's farm in New Jersey. Our intimacy began and ended there, for
it had not ripened into letters; perhaps because we were too young
when we parted. Later I had had a hundred intermittent impulses to
write to him, but did not. Meanwhile separation and silence had
clothed him in my mind with something of the mistiness of a
half-remembered dream. Yet the instant Washington Flagg mentioned his
name the boyish features began rapidly to define themselves behind the
maturer mask, until he stood before me in the crude form in which my
memory had slyly embalmed him.
Now my sense of kinship is particularly strong, for reasons which I
shall presently touch upon, and I straightway grasped my cousin's hand
with a warmth that would have seemed exaggerated to a bystander, if
there had been a bystander; but it was early in the day, and the
avenue had not yet awakened to life. As this bitter world goes, a
sleek, prosperous, well-dressed man does not usually throw much
heartiness into his manner when he is accosted on the street by so
unpromising and dismal an object as my cousin Washington Flagg was
that morning. Not at all in the way of sounding the trumpet of my own
geniality, but simply as the statement of a fact, I will say that I
threw a great deal of heartiness into my greeting. This man to me
I stood curiously alone in the world. My father died before I was
born, and my mother shortly afterwards. I had neither brother nor
sister. Indeed, I never had any near relatives except a grandfather
until my sons came along. Mrs. Wesley, when I married her, was not
merely an only child, but an orphan. Fate denied me even a
mother-in-law. I had one uncle and one cousin. The former I do not
remember ever to have seen, and my association with the latter, as has
been stated, was of a most limited order. Perhaps I should have had
less sentiment about family ties if I had had more of them. As it was,
Washington Flagg occupied the position of sole kinsman, always
excepting the little Wesleys, and I was as glad to see him that May
morning in his poverty as if he had come to me loaded with the
title-deeds of those vast estates which our ancestors (I wonder that I
was allowed any ancestors: why wasn't I created at once out of some
stray scrap of protoplasm?) were supposed to have held in the colonial
period. As I gazed upon Washington Flagg I thrilled with the sense
that I was gazing upon the materialization in a concrete form of all
the ghostly brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces which I had
"Dear old boy!" I exclaimed, in my turn, holding on to his hand as
if I were afraid that I was going to lose him again for another twenty
years. "Bless my stars! where did you come from?"
"From Dixie's Land," he said, with a laugh. "'Way down in Dixie."
In a few words, and with a picturesqueness of phrase in which I
noted a rich Southern flavor, he explained the phenomenon of his
presence in New York. After Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court-House,
my cousin had managed to reach Washington, where he was fortunate
enough to get a free pass to Baltimore. He had nearly starved to death
in making his way out of Virginia. To quote his words, "The wind that
is supposed to be tempered expressly for shorn lambs was not blowing
very heavily about that time." At Baltimore he fell in with a former
Mobile acquaintance, from whom he borrowed a sum sufficient to pay the
fare to New York—a humiliating necessity, as my cousin remarked, for
a man who had been a colonel in Stonewall Jackson's brigade. Flagg had
reached the city before daybreak, and had wandered for hours along the
water-front, waiting for some place to open, in order that he might
look up my address in the Directory, if I were still in the land of
the living. He had had what he described as an antediluvian sandwich
the previous day at two o'clock, since which banquet no food had
passed his lips.
"And I'll be hanged," he said, "if the first shop that took down
its shutters wasn't a restaurant, with a cursed rib of roast beef,
flanked with celery, and a ham in curl-papers staring at me through
the window- pane. A little tin sign, with 'Meals at All Hours' painted
on it—what did they want to go and do that for?—knocked the breath
clean out of me. I gave one look, and ploughed up the street, for if I
had stayed fifteen seconds longer in front of that plate-glass, I
reckon I would have burst it in. Well, I put distance between me and
temptation, and by and by I came to a newspaper office, where I
cornered a Directory. I was on the way to your house when we collided;
and now, Tom Wesley, for heaven's sake introduce me to something to
eat. There is no false pride about me; I'd shake hands with a bone."
The moisture was ready to gather in my eyes, and for a second or
two I was unable to manage my voice. Here was my only kinsman on the
verge of collapse—one miserable sandwich, like a thin plank, between
him and destruction. My own plenteous though hasty morning meal turned
into reproachful lead within me.
"Dear old boy!" I cried again. "Come along! I can see that you are
"I've a right smart appetite, Thomas, there's no mistake about
that. If appetite were assets, I could invite a whole regiment to
I had thrust my hand under his arm, and was dragging him towards a
small oyster shop, whose red balloon in a side street had caught my
eye, when I suddenly remembered that it was imperative on me to be at
the office at eight o'clock that morning, in order to prepare certain
papers wanted by the president of the board, previous to a meeting of
the directors. (I was at that time under-secretary of the Savonarola
Fire Insurance Company.) The recollection of the business which had
caused me to be on foot at this unusual hour brought me to a dead
halt. I dropped my cousin's arm, and stood looking at him helplessly.
It seemed so inhospitable, not to say cold-blooded, to send him off to
get his breakfast alone. Flagg misinterpreted my embarrassment.
"Of course," he said, with a touch of dignity which pierced me
through the bosom, "I do not wish to be taken to any place where I
would disgrace you. I know how impossible I am. Yet this suit of
clothes cost me twelve hundred dollars in Confederate scrip. These
boots are not much to look at, but they were made by a scion of one of
the first families of the South; I paid him two hundred dollars for
them, and he was right glad to get it. To such miserable straits have
Southern gentlemen been reduced by the vandals of the North. Perhaps
you don't like the Confederate gray?"
"Bother your boots and your clothes!" I cried. "Nobody will notice
them here." (Which was true enough, for in those days the land was
strewed with shreds and patches of the war. The drivers and conductors
of street cars wore overcoats made out of shoddy army blankets, and
the dustmen went about in cast-off infantry caps.) "What troubles me
is that I can't wait to start you on your breakfast."
"I reckon I don't need much starting."
I explained the situation to him, and suggested that instead of
going to the restaurant, he should go directly to my house, and be
served by Mrs. Wesley, to whom I would write a line on a leaf of my
memorandum-book. I did not suggest this step in the first instance
because the little oyster saloon, close at hand, had seemed to offer
the shortest cut to my cousin's relief.
"So you're married?" said he.
"I haven't taken any matrimony in mine."
"I've been married six years, and have two boys."
"No! How far is your house?" he inquired. "Will I have to take a
"A 'caar'? Ah, yes—that is to say, no. A car isn't worth while.
You see that bakery two blocks from here, at the right? That's on the
corner of Clinton Place. You turn down there. You'll notice in looking
over what I've written to Mrs. Wesley that she is to furnish you with
some clothes, such as are worn by—by vandals of the North in
"Tom Wesley, you are as good as a straight flush. If you ever come
down South, when this cruel war is over, our people will treat you
like one of the crowned heads—only a devilish sight better, for the
crowned heads rather went back on us. If England had recognized the
"Never mind that; your tenderloin steak is cooling."
"Don't mention it! I go. But I say, Tom—Mrs. Wesley? Really, I am
hardly presentable. Are there other ladies around?"
"There's no one but Mrs. Wesley."
"Do you think I can count on her being glad to see me at such short
"She will be a sister to you," I said warmly.
"Well, I reckon that you two are a pair of trumps. Au revoir! Be
good to yourself."
With this, my cousin strode off, tucking my note to Mrs. Wesley
inside the leather belt buckled tightly around his waist. I lingered a
moment on the curbstone, and looked after him with a sensation of
mingled pride, amusement, and curiosity. That was my Family; there it
was, in that broad back and those not ungraceful legs, striding up
Sixth Avenue, with its noble intellect intent on thoughts of
breakfast. I was thankful that it had not been written in the book of
fate that this limb of the closely pruned Wesley tree should be lopped
off by the sword of war. But as Washington Flagg turned into Clinton
Place, I had a misgiving. It was hardly to be expected that a person
of his temperament, fresh from a four years' desperate struggle and a
disastrous defeat, would refrain from expressing his views on the
subject. That those views would be somewhat lurid, I was convinced by
the phrases which he had dropped here and there in the course of our
conversation. He was, to all intents and purposes, a Southerner. He
had been a colonel in Stonewall Jackson's brigade. And Mrs. Wesley was
such an uncompromising patriot! It was in the blood. Her
great-grandfather, on the mother's side, had frozen to death at Valley
Forge in the winter of 1778, and her grandfather, on the paternal
side, had had his head taken off by a round-shot from his Majesty's
sloop of war Porpoise in 1812. I believe that Mrs. Wesley would have
applied for a divorce from me if I had not served a year in the army
at the beginning of the war.
I began bitterly to regret that I had been obliged to present my
cousin to her so abruptly. I wished it had occurred to me to give him
a word or two of caution, or that I had had sense enough to adhere to
my first plan of letting him feed himself at the little oyster
establishment round the corner. But wishes and regrets could not now
mend the matter; so I hailed an approaching horse-car, and comforted
myself on the rear platform with the reflection that perhaps the
colonel would not wave the palmetto leaf too vigorously, if he waved
it at all, in the face of Mrs. Wesley.
The awkwardness of the situation disturbed me more or less during
the forenoon; but fortunately it was a half-holiday, and I was able to
leave the office shortly after one o'clock.
I do not know how I came to work myself into such a state of mind
on the way up town, but as I stepped from the horse-car and turned
into Clinton Place I had a strong apprehension that I should find some
unpleasant change in the facial aspect of the little red brick
building I occupied- -a scowl, for instance, on the brown-stone
eyebrow over the front door. I actually had a feeling of relief when I
saw that the facade presented its usual unaggressive appearance.
As I entered the hall, Mrs. Wesley, who had heard my pass-key
grating in the lock, was coming down-stairs.
"Is my cousin here, Clara?" I asked, in the act of reaching up to
hang my hat on the rack.
"No," said Mrs. Wesley. There was a tone in that monosyllable that
struck me. "But he has been here?"
"He has been here," replied Mrs. Wesley. "May be you noticed the
bell- knob hanging out one or two inches. Is Mr. Flagg in the habit of
stretching the bell-wire of the houses he visits, when the door is not
opened in a moment? Has he escaped from somewhere?"
"Escaped from somewhere!" I echoed. "I only asked; he behaved so
"Good heavens, Clara! what has the man done? I hope that nothing
unpleasant has happened. Flagg is my only surviving relative—I may
say our only surviving relative—and I should be pained to have any
misunderstanding. I want you to like him."
"There was a slight misunderstanding at first," said Clara, and a
smile flitted across her face, softening the features which had worn
an air of unusual seriousness and preoccupation. "But it is all right
now, dear. He has eaten everything in the house—that bit of spring
lamb I saved expressly for you!—and has gone down town 'on a raid,'
as he called it, in your second-best suit—the checked tweed. I did
all I could for him."
"My dear, something has ruffled you. What is it?"
"Wesley," said my wife slowly, and in a perplexed way, "I have had
so few relatives that perhaps I don't know what to do with them, or
what to say to them."
"You always say and do what is just right."
"I began unfortunately with Mr. Flagg, then. Mary was washing the
dishes when he rang, and I went to the door. If he IS our cousin, I
must say that he cut a remarkable figure on the doorstep."
"I can imagine it, my dear, coming upon you so unexpectedly. There
were peculiarities in his costume."
"For an instant," Clara went on, "I took him for the ashman, though
the ashman always goes to the area door, and never comes on Tuesdays;
and then, before the creature had a chance to speak, I said, 'We don't
want any,' supposing he had something to sell. Instead of going away
quietly, as I expected he would do, the man made a motion to come in,
and I slammed the door on him."
"What else could I do, all alone in the hall? How was I to know
that he was one of the family?"
"What happened next?"
"Well, I saw that I had shut the lapel of his coat in the
door-jamb, and that the man couldn't go away if he wanted to ever so
much. Wasn't it dreadful? Of course I didn't dare to open the door,
and there he was! He began pounding on the panels and ringing the bell
in a manner to curdle one's blood. He rang the bell at least a hundred
times in succession. I stood there with my hand on the bolt, not
daring to move or breathe. I called to Mary to put on her things,
steal out the lower way, and bring the police. Suddenly everything was
still outside, and presently I saw a piece of paper slowly slipping in
over the threshold, oh, so slyly! I felt my hands and feet grow cold.
I felt that the man himself was about to follow that narrow strip of
paper; that he was bound to get in that way, or through the keyhole,
or somehow. Then I recognized your handwriting. My first thought was
that you had been killed in some horrible accident"—
"And had dropped you a line?"
"I didn't reason about it, Wesley; I was paralyzed. I picked up the
paper, and read it, and opened the door, and Mr. Flagg rushed in as if
he had been shot out of something. 'Don't want any?' he shouted. 'But
I do! I want some breakfast!' You should have heard him."
"He stated a fact, at any rate. To be sure he might have stated it
less vivaciously." I was beginning to be amused.
"After that he was quieter, and tried to make himself agreeable,
and we laughed a little together over my mistake—that is, HE laughed.
Of course I got breakfast for him—and such a breakfast!"
"He had been without anything to eat since yesterday."
"I should have imagined," said Clara, "that he had eaten nothing
since the war broke out."
"Did he say anything in particular about himself?" I asked, with a
recurrent touch of anxiety.
"He wasn't particular what he said about himself. Without in the
least seeing the horror of it, he positively boasted of having been in
the rebel army."
"That makes it all the worse," replied Clara.
"But they had to have colonels, you know."
"Is Mr. Flagg a Virginian, or a Mississippian, or a Georgian?"
"No, my dear; he was born in the State of Maine; but he has lived
so long in the South that he's quite one of them for the present. We
must make allowances for him, Clara. Did he say anything else?"
"What did he say?"
"He said he'd come back to supper."
It was clear that Clara was not favorably impressed by my cousin,
and, indeed, the circumstances attending his advent were not happy. It
was likewise clear that I had him on my hands, temporarily at least. I
almost reproach myself even now for saying "on my hands," in
connection with my own flesh and blood. The responsibility did not so
define itself at the time. It took the form of a novel and pleasing
duty. Here was my only kinsman, in a strange city, without friends,
money, or hopeful outlook. My course lay before me as straight as a
turnpike. I had a great deal of family pride, even if I did not have
any family to speak of, and I was resolved that what little I had
should not perish for want of proper sustenance.
Shortly before six o'clock Washington Flagg again presented himself
at our doorstep, and obtained admission to the house with fewer
difficulties than he had encountered earlier in the day.
I do not think I ever saw a man in destitute circumstances so
entirely cheerful as my cousin was. Neither the immediate past, which
must have been full of hardships, nor the immediate future, which was
not lavish of its promises, seemed to give him any but a momentary and
impersonal concern. At the supper-table he talked much and well,
exceedingly well, I thought, except when he touched on the war, which
he was continually doing, and then I was on tenter-hooks. His point of
view was so opposed to ours as to threaten in several instances to
bring on an engagement all along the line. This calamity was averted
by my passing something to him at the critical moment. Now I checked
his advance by a slice of cold tongue, and now I turned his flank with
another cup of tea; but I questioned my ability to preserve peace
throughout the evening. Before the meal was at an end there had crept
into Clara's manner a polite calmness which I never liked to see. What
was I going to do with these two after supper, when my cousin Flagg,
with his mind undistracted by relays of cream toast, could give his
entire attention to the Lost Cause?
As we were pushing the chairs back from the table, I was inspired
with the idea of taking our guest off to a cafe concert over in the
Bowery—a volksgarten very popular in those days. While my whispered
suggestion was meeting Clara's cordial approval, our friend Bleeker
dropped in. So the colonel and Bleeker and I passed the evening with
"lager-beer and Meyer-beer," as my lively kinsman put it; after which
he spent the night on the sofa in our sitting-room, for we had no
spare chamber to place at his disposal.
"I shall be very snug here," he said, smiling down my apologies.
"I'm a 'possum for adapting myself to any odd hollow."
The next morning my cousin was early astir, possibly not having
found that narrow springless lounge all a 'possum could wish, and
joined us in discussing a plan which I had proposed overnight to Mrs.
Wesley, namely, that he should hire an apartment in a quiet street
near by, and take his meals—that was to say, his dinner—with us,
until he could make such arrangements as would allow him to live more
conveniently. To return South, where all the lines of his previous
business connections were presumably broken, was at present out of the
"The war has ruined our people," said the colonel. "I will have to
put up for a while with a place in a bank or an insurance office, or
something in that small way. The world owes me a living, North or
His remark nettled me a little, though he was, of course, unaware
of my relations with the Savonarola Fire Insurance Company, and had
meant no slight.
"I don't quite see that," I observed.
"Don't see what?"
"How the world contrived to get so deeply into your debt—how all
the points of the compass managed it."
"Thomas, I didn't ask to be born, did I?"
"But I was born, wasn't I?"
"To all appearances."
"But you cannot hold the world in general responsible for your
birth. The responsibility narrows itself down to your parents."
"Then I am euchred. By one of those laws of nature which make this
globe a sweet spot to live on, they were taken from me just when I
needed them most—my mother in my infancy, and my father in my
"But your father left you something?"
"The old gentleman left me nothing, and I've been steadily
increasing the legacy ever since."
"What did you do before the war?" inquired Clara sympathetically.
His mention of his early losses had touched her.
"Oh, a number of things. I read law for a while. At one time I was
interested in a large concern for the manufacture of patent metallic
burial cases; but nobody seemed to die that year. Good health raged
like an epidemic all over the South. Latterly I dabbled a little in
stocks— and stocks dabbled in me."
"You were not successful, then?" I said.
"I was at first, but when the war fever broke out and the Southern
heart was fired, everything that didn't go down went up."
"And you couldn't meet your obligations?"
"That wasn't the trouble—I couldn't get away from them," replied
the colonel, with a winsome smile. "I met them at every corner."
The man had a fashion of turning his very misfortunes into
pleasantries. Surely prosperity would be wasted on a person so gifted
with optimism. I felt it to be kind and proper, however, to express
the hope that he had reached the end of his adversity, and to assure
him that I would do anything I could in the world to help him.
"Tom Wesley, I believe you would."
Before the close of that day Mrs. Wesley, who is a lady that does
not allow any species of vegetation to accumulate under her feet, had
secured a furnished room for our kinsman in a street branching off
from Clinton Place, and at a moderate additional expense contracted to
have him served with breakfast on the premises. Previous to this I had
dined down town, returning home in the evening to a rather heavy tea,
which was really my wife's dinner—Sheridan and Ulysses (such were the
heroic names under which the two little Wesleys were staggering) had
their principal meal at midday. It was, of course, not desirable that
the colonel should share this meal with them and Mrs. Wesley in my
absence. So we decided to have a six o'clock dinner; a temporary
disarrangement of our domestic machinery, for my cousin Flagg would
doubtless find some acceptable employment before long, and leave the
household free to slip back into its regular grooves.
An outline of the physical aspects of the exotic kinsman who had so
unexpectedly added himself to the figures at our happy fireside seems
not out of place here. The portrait, being the result of many
sittings, does not in some points convey the exact impression he made
upon us in the earlier moments of our intimacy; but that is not
Though Washington Flagg had first opened his eyes on the banks of
the Penobscot, he appeared to have been planned by nature to adorn the
banks of the Rappahannock. There was nothing of the New Englander
about him. The sallowness of his complexion and the blackness of his
straight hair, which he wore long, were those of the typical
Southerner. He was of medium height and loosely built, with a kind of
elastic grace in his disjointedness. When he smiled he was positively
handsome; in repose his features were nearly plain, the lips too
indecisive, and the eyes lacking in lustre. A sparse tuft of beard at
his chin—he was otherwise smoothly shaven—lengthened the face. There
was, when he willed it, something very ingratiating in his
manner—even Clara admitted that—a courteous and unconventional sort
of ease. In all these surface characteristics he was a geographical
anomaly. In the cast of his mind he was more Southern than the South,
as a Northern convert is apt to be. Even his speech, like the dyer's
arm, had taken tints from his environment. One might say that his
pronunciation had literally been colored by his long association with
the colored race. He invariably said flo' for floor, and djew for dew;
but I do not anywhere attempt a phonetic reproduction of his dialect;
in its finer qualities it was too elusive to be snared in a network of
letters. In spite of his displacements, for my cousin had lived all
over the South in his boyhood, he had contrived to pick up a very
decent education. As to his other attributes, he shall be left to
reveal them himself.
Mrs. Wesley kindly assumed the charge of establishing Washington
Flagg in his headquarters, as he termed the snug hall bedroom in
Macdougal Street. There were numberless details to be looked to. His
wardrobe, among the rest, needed replenishing down to the most
unconsidered button, for Flagg had dropped into our little world with
as few impedimenta as if he had been a newly born infant. Though my
condition, like that desired by Agur, the son of Jakeh, was one of
neither poverty nor riches, greenbacks in those days were greenbacks.
I mention the fact in order to say that my satisfaction in coming to
the rescue of my kinsman would have been greatly lessened if it had
involved no self- denial whatever.
The day following his installation I was partly annoyed, partly
amused, to find that Flagg had purchased a rather expensive meerschaum
pipe and a pound or two of Latakia tobacco.
"I cannot afford to smoke cigars," he explained. "I must economize
until I get on my feet."
Perhaps it would have been wiser if I had personally attended to
his expenditures, minor as well as major, but it did not seem
practicable to leave him without a cent in his pocket. His pilgrimage
down town that forenoon had apparently had no purpose beyond this
purchase, though on the previous evening I had directed his notice to
two or three commercial advertisements which impressed me as worth
looking into. I hesitated to ask him if he had looked into them. A
collateral feeling of delicacy prevented me from breathing a word to
Clara about the pipe.
Our reconstructed household, with its unreconstructed member, now
moved forward on the lines laid down. Punctually at a quarter to six
P. M. my cousin appeared at the front door, hung his hat on the rack,
and passed into the sitting-room, sometimes humming in the hall a bar
or two of The Bonny Blue Flag that bears a Single Star, to the
infinite distaste of Mrs. Wesley, who was usually at that moment
giving the finishing touches to the dinner-table. After dinner, during
which I was in a state of unrelaxed anxiety lest the colonel should
get himself on too delicate ground, I took him into my small snuggery
at the foot of the hall, where coffee was served to us, Mrs. Wesley
being left to her own devices.
For several days matters went as smoothly as I could have hoped. I
found it so easy, when desirable, to switch the colonel on to one of
my carefully contrived side tracks that I began to be proud of my
skill and to enjoy the exercise of it. But one evening, just as we
were in the middle of the dessert, he suddenly broke out with, "We
were conquered by mere brute force, you know!"
"That is very true," I replied. "It is brute force that tells in
war. Wasn't it Napoleon who said that he had remarked that God was
generally on the side which had the heaviest artillery?"
"The North had that, fast enough, and crushed a free people with
"A free people with four millions of slaves?" observed Mrs. Wesley
"Slavery was a patriarchal institution, my dear lady. But I reckon
it is exploded now. The Emancipation Proclamation was a dastardly war
"It did something more and better than free the blacks," said Mrs.
Wesley; "it freed the whites. Dear me!" she added, glancing at
Sheridan and Ulysses, who, in a brief reprieve from bed, were over in
one corner of the room dissecting a small wooden camel, "I cannot be
thankful enough that the children are too young to understand such
The colonel, to my great relief, remained silent; but as soon as
Clara had closed the dining-room door behind her, he said, "Tom
Wesley, I reckon your wife doesn't wholly like me."
"She likes you immensely," I cried, inwardly begging to be
forgiven. "But she is a firm believer in the justice of the Northern
"May be she lost a brother, or something."
"No; she never had a brother. If she had had one, he would have
been killed in the first battle of the war. She sent me to the front
to be killed, and I went willingly; but I wasn't good enough; the
enemy wouldn't have me at any price after a year's trial. Mrs. Wesley
feels very strongly on this subject, and I wish you would try, like a
good fellow, not to bring the question up at dinner-time. I am
squarely opposed to your views myself, but I don't mind what you say
as she does. So talk to me as much as you want to, but don't talk in
Clara's presence. When persons disagree as you two do, argument is
useless. Besides, the whole thing has been settled on the battlefield,
and it isn't worth while to fight it all over again on a table-cloth."
"I suppose it isn't," he assented good-naturedly. "But you people
up at the North here don't suspicion what we have been through. You
caught only the edge of the hurricane. The most of you, I take it,
weren't in it at all."
"Our dearest were in it."
"Well, we got whipped, Wesley, I acknowledge it; but we deserved to
win, if ever bravery deserved it."
"The South was brave, nobody contests that; but ''t is not enough
to be brave'—
"'The angry valor dashed
On the awful shield of God,'
as one of our poets says."
"Blast one of your poets! Our people were right, too."
"Come, now, Flagg, when you talk about your people, you ought to
mean Northerners, for you were born in the North."
"That was just the kind of luck that has followed me all my life.
My body belongs to Bangor, Maine, and my soul to Charleston, South
"You've got a problem there that ought to bother you."
"It does," said the colonel, with a laugh.
"Meanwhile, my dear boy, don't distress Mrs. Wesley with it. She is
ready to be very fond of you, if you will let her. It would be
altogether sad and shameful if a family so contracted as ours couldn't
get along without internal dissensions."
My cousin instantly professed the greatest regard for Mrs. Wesley,
and declared that both of us were good enough to be Southrons. He
promised that in future he would take all the care he could not to run
against her prejudices, which merely grew out of her confused
conception of State rights and the right of self-government. Women
never understood anything about political economy and government,
Having accomplished thus much with the colonel, I turned my
attention, on his departure, to smoothing Clara. I reminded her that
nearly everybody North and South had kinsmen or friends in both
armies. To be sure, it was unfortunate that we, having only one
kinsman, should have had him on the wrong side. That was better than
having no kinsman at all. (Clara was inclined to demur at this.) It
had not been practicable for him to divide himself; if it had been, he
would probably have done it, and the two halves would doubtless have
arrayed themselves against each other. They would, in a manner, have
been bound to do so. However, the war was over, we were victorious,
and could afford to be magnanimous.
"But he doesn't seem to have discovered that the war is over,"
returned Clara. "He 'still waves.'"
"It is likely that certain obstinate persons on both sides of Mason
and Dixon's line will be a long time making the discovery. Some will
never make it—so much the worse for them and the country."
Mrs. Wesley meditated and said nothing, but I saw that so far as
she and the colonel were concerned the war was not over.
This slight breeze cleared the atmosphere for the time being. My
cousin Flagg took pains to avoid all but the most indirect allusions
to the war, except when we were alone, and in several small ways
endeavored— with not too dazzling success—to be agreeable to Clara.
The transparency of the effort was perhaps the partial cause of its
failure. And then, too, the nature of his little attentions was not
always carefully considered on his part. For example, Mrs. Wesley
could hardly be expected to lend herself with any grace at all to the
proposal he made one sultry June evening to "knock her up" a
mint-julep, "the most refreshing beverage on earth, madam, in hot
weather, I can assure you." Judge Ashburton Todhunter, of Fauquier
County, had taught him to prepare this pungent elixir from a private
receipt for which the judge had once refused the sum of fifty dollars,
offered to him by Colonel Stanley Bluegrass, of Chattanooga, and this
was at a moment, too, when the judge had been losing very heavily at
"All quiet along the Potomac," whispered the colonel, with a
momentary pride in the pacific relations he had established between
himself and Mrs. Wesley.
As the mint and one or two other necessary ingredients were lacking
to our family stores, the idea of julep was dismissed as a vain dream,
and its place supplied by iced Congress water, a liquid which my
cousin characterized, in a hasty aside to me, as being a drink fit
only for imbecile infants of a tender age.
Washington Flagg's frequent and familiar mention of governors,
judges, colonels, and majors clearly indicated that he had moved in
aristocratic latitudes in the South, and threw light on his
disinclination to consider any of the humbler employments which might
have been open to him. He had so far conceded to the exigency of the
case as to inquire if there were a possible chance for him in the
Savonarola Fire Insurance Company. He had learned of my secretaryship.
There was no vacancy in the office, and if there had been, I would
have taken no steps to fill it with my cousin. He knew nothing of the
business. Besides, however deeply I had his interests at heart, I
should have hesitated to risk my own situation by becoming sponsor for
so unmanageable an element as he appeared to be.
At odd times in my snuggery after dinner Flagg glanced over the
"wants" columns of the evening journal, but never found anything he
wanted. He found many amusing advertisements that served him as pegs
on which to hang witty comment, but nothing to be taken seriously. I
ventured to suggest that he should advertise. He received the idea
with little warmth.
"No, my dear boy, I can't join the long procession of scullions,
cooks, butlers, valets, and bottle-washers which seem to make up so
large a part of your population. I couldn't keep step with them. It is
altogether impossible for me to conduct myself in this matter like a
menial-of-all-work out of place. 'Wanted, a situation, by a
respectable young person of temperate habits; understands the care of
horses; is willing to go into the country and milk the cow with the
crumpled horn.' No; many thanks."
"State your own requirements, Flagg. I didn't propose that you
should offer yourself as coachman."
"It would amount to the same thing, Wesley. I should at once be
relegated to his level. Some large opportunity is dead sure to present
itself to me if I wait. I believe the office should seek the man."
"I have noticed that a man has to meet his opportunities more than
halfway, or he doesn't get acquainted with them. Mohammed was obliged
to go to the mountain, after waiting for the mountain to come to him."
"Mohammed's mistake was that he didn't wait long enough. He was too
impatient. But don't you fret. I have come to Yankeedom to make my
fortune. The despot's heel is on your shore, and it means to remain
there until he hears of something greatly to his advantage."
A few days following this conversation, Mr. Nelson, of Files
Nelson, wholesale grocers on Front Street, mentioned to me casually
that he was looking for a shipping-clerk. Before the war the firm had
done an extensive Southern trade, which they purposed to build up
again now that the ports of the South were thrown open. The place in
question involved a great deal of outdoor work—the loading and
unloading of spicy cargoes, a life among the piers—all which seemed
to me just suited to my cousin's woodland nature. I could not picture
him nailed to a desk in a counting-room. The salary was not
bewildering, but the sum was to be elastic, if ability were shown.
Here was an excellent chance, a stepping-stone, at all events; perhaps
the large opportunity itself, artfully disguised as fifteen dollars a
week. I spoke of Flagg to Mr. Nelson, and arranged a meeting between
them for the next day.
I said nothing of the matter at the dinner-table that evening; but
an encouraging thing always makes a lantern of me, and Clara saw the
light in my face. As soon as dinner was over I drew my cousin into the
little side room, and laid the affair before him.
"And I have made an appointment for you to meet Mr. Nelson
to-morrow at one o'clock," I said, in conclusion.
"My dear Wesley"—he had listened to me in silence, and now spoke
without enthusiasm—"I don't know what you were thinking of to do
anything of the sort. I will not keep the appointment with that
person. The only possible intercourse I could have with him would be
to order groceries at his shop. The idea of a man who has moved in the
best society of the South, who has been engaged in great if
unsuccessful enterprises, who has led the picked chivalry of his
oppressed land against the Northern hordes—the idea of a gentleman of
this kidney meekly simmering down into a factotum to a Yankee dealer
in canned goods! No, sir; I reckon I can do better than that."
The lantern went out.
I resolved that moment to let my cousin shape his own destiny—a
task which in no way appeared to trouble him. And, indeed, now that I
look back to it, why should he have troubled himself? He had a
comfortable if not luxurious apartment in Macdougal Street; a daily
dinner that asked only to be eaten; a wardrobe that was replenished
when it needed replenishing; a weekly allowance that made up for its
modesty by its punctuality. If ever a man was in a position patiently
to await the obsequious approach of large opportunities that man was
Washington Flagg. He was not insensible to the fact. He passed his
time serenely. He walked the streets—Flagg was a great
walker—sometimes wandering for hours in the Central Park. His
Southern life, passed partly among plantations, had given him a relish
for trees and rocks and waters. He was also a hungry reader of novels.
When he had devoured our slender store of fiction, which was soon
done, he took books from a small circulating library on Sixth Avenue.
That he gave no thought whatever to the future was clear. He simply
drifted down the gentle stream of the present. Sufficient to the day
was the sunshine thereof.
In spite of his unforgivable inertia, and the egotism that
enveloped him like an atmosphere, there was a charm to the man that
put my impatience to sleep. I tried to think that this indifference
and sunny idleness were perhaps the natural reaction of that larger
life of emotion and activity from which he had just emerged. I
reflected a great deal on that life, and, though I lamented the fact
that he had drawn his sword on the wrong side, there was, down deep in
my heart, an involuntary sympathetic throb for the valor that had not
availed. I suppose the inexplicable ties of kinship had something to
do with all this.
Washington Flagg had now been with us five weeks. He usually
lingered awhile after dinner; sometimes spent the entire evening with
the family, or, rather, with me, for Mrs. Wesley preferred the
sitting-room to my den when I had company. Besides, there were
Sheridan and Ulysses to be looked to. Toward the close of the sixth
week I noticed that Flagg had fallen into a way of leaving immediately
after dinner. He had also fallen into another way not so open to
By degrees—by degrees so subtle as almost to escape
measurement—he had glided back to the forbidden and dangerous ground
of the war. At first it was an intangible reference to something that
occurred on such and such a date, the date in question being that of
some sanguinary battle; then a swift sarcasm, veiled and softly shod;
then a sarcasm that dropped its veil for an instant, and showed its
sharp features. At last his thought wore no disguise. Possibly the man
could not help it; possibly there was something in the atmosphere of
the house that impelled him to say things which he would have been
unlikely to say elsewhere. Whatever was the explanation, my cousin
Flagg began to make himself disagreeable again at meal-times.
He had never much regarded my disapproval, and now his early
ill-defined fear of Mrs. Wesley was evaporated. He no longer hesitated
to indulge in his war reminiscences, which necessarily brought his
personal exploits under a calcium-light. These exploits usually
emphasized his intimacy with some of the more dashing Southern
leaders, such as Stonewall Jackson and Jeb Stuart and Mosby. We found
ourselves practically conscripted in the Confederate army. We were
taken on long midnight rides through the passes of the Cumberland
Mountains and hurled on some Federal outpost; we were made—a mere
handful as we were—to assault and carry most formidable earthworks;
we crossed dangerous fords, and bivouacked under boughs hung with
weird gonfalons of gray moss, slit here and there by the edge of a
star. Many a time we crawled stealthily through tangled vines and
shrubs to the skirt of a wood, and across a fallen log sighted the
Yankee picket whose bayonet point glimmered now and then far off in
the moonlight. We spent a great many hours around the camp-fire
counting our metaphorical scalps.
One evening the colonel was especially exasperating with anecdotes
of Stonewall Jackson, and details of what he said to the general and
what the general said to him.
"Stonewall Jackson often used to say to me, 'George'—he always
called me George, in just that off-hand way—'George, when we get to
New York, you shall have quarters in the Astor House, and pasture your
mare Spitfire in the Park."'
"That was very thoughtful of Stonewall Jackson," remarked Mrs.
Wesley, with the faintest little whiteness gathering at the lips. "I
am sorry that your late friend did not accompany you to the city, and
personally superintend your settlement here. He would have been able
to surround you with so many more comforts than you have in Macdougal
The colonel smiled upon Clara, and made a deprecating gesture with
his left hand. Nothing seemed to pierce his ironclad composure. A
moment afterward he returned to the theme, and recited some verses
called "Stonewall Jackson's Way." He recited them very well. One
stanza lingers in my memory—
"We see him now—the old slouched hat
Cocked o'er his brow askew,
The shrewd, dry smile, the speech so pat,
So calm, so blunt, so true.
The Blue-light Elder knows 'em well.
Says he: 'That's Banks; he's fond of shell.
Lord save his soul! we'll give him'—Well,
That's Stonewall Jackson's way."
"His ways must have been far from agreeable," observed my wife, "if
that is a sample of them."
After the colonel had taken himself off, Mrs. Wesley, sinking
wearily upon the sofa, said, "I think I am getting rather tired of
"We both are, my dear; and some of our corps commanders used to
find him rather tiresome now and then. He was really a great soldier,
Clara; perhaps the greatest on the other side."
"I suppose he was; but Flagg comes next—according to his own
report. Why, Tom, if your cousin had been in all the battles he says
he has, the man would have been killed ten times over. He'd have had
at least an arm or a leg shot off."
That Washington Flagg had all his limbs on was actually becoming a
grievance to Mrs. Wesley.
The situation filled me with anxiety. Between my cousin's
deplorable attitude and my wife's justifiable irritation, I was
extremely perplexed. If I had had a dozen cousins, the solution of the
difficulty would have been simple. But to close our door on our only
kinsman was an intolerable alternative.
If any word of mine has caused the impression that Clara was not
gentle and sympathetic and altogether feminine, I have wronged her.
The reserve which strangers mistook for coldness was a shell that
melted at the slightest kind touch, her masterful air the merest
seeming. But whatever latent antagonism lay in her nature the colonel
had the faculty of bringing to the surface. It must be conceded that
the circumstances in which she was placed were trying, and Clara was
without that strong, perhaps abnormal, sense of relationship which
sustained me in the ordeal. Later on, when matters grew more
complicated, I could but admire her resignation—if it were not
helpless despair. Sometimes, indeed, she was unable to obliterate
herself, and not only stood by her guns, but carried the war into the
enemy's country. I very frequently found myself between two fires, and
was glad to drag what small fragments were left of me from the scene
of action. In brief, the little house in Clinton Place was rapidly
transforming itself into a ghastly caricature of home.
Up to the present state of affairs the colonel had never once
failed to appear at dinner-time. We had become so accustomed to his
ring at the prescribed hour, and to hearing him outside in the hall
softly humming The Bonny Blue Flag, or I wish I was in Dixie's Land (a
wish which he did not wholly monopolize)—we had, I repeat, become so
accustomed to these details that one night when he absented himself we
experienced a kind of alarm. It was not until the clock struck ten
that we gave over expecting him. Then, fearing that possibly he was
ill, I put on my hat and stepped round to Macdougal Street. Mr. Flagg
had gone out late in the afternoon, and had not returned. No, he had
left no word in case any one called. What had happened? I smile to
myself now, and I have smiled a great many times, at the remembrance
of how worried I was that night as I walked slowly back to Clinton
The next evening my cousin explained his absence. He had made the
acquaintance of some distinguished literary gentlemen, who had invited
him to dine with them at a certain German cafe, which at an earlier
date had been rather famous as the rendezvous of a group of young
journalists, wits, and unblossomed poets, known as "The Bohemians."
The war had caused sad havoc with these light—hearted Knights of the
Long Table, and it was only upon a scattered remnant of the goodly
company that the colonel had fallen. How it came about, I do not know.
I know that the acquaintance presently flowered into intimacy, and
that at frequent intervals after this we had a vacant chair at table.
My cousin did not give himself the pains to advise us of his
engagements, so these absences were not as pleasant as they would have
been if we had not expected him every minute.
Recently, too, our expectation of his coming was tinged with a
dread which neither I nor Mrs. Wesley had named to each other. A
change was gradually taking place in my cousin. Hitherto his
amiability, even when he was most unendurable, had been a part of him.
Obviously he was losing that lightness of spirit which we once
disliked and now began to regret. He was inclined to be excitable and
sullen by turns, and often of late I had been obliged to go to the
bottom of my diplomacy in preventing some painful scene. As I have
said, neither my wife nor I had spoken definitely of this alteration;
but the cause and nature of it could not long be ignored between us.
"How patient you are with him, dear!" said Mrs. Wesley, as I was
turning out the gas after one of our grim and grotesque little
dinners: the colonel had not dined with us before for a week. "I don't
see how you can be so patient with the man."
"Blood is thicker than water, Clara."
"But it isn't thicker than whiskey and water, is it?"
She had said it. The colonel was drinking. It was not a question of
that light elixir the precious receipt for which had been confided to
him by Judge Ashburton Todhunter, of Fauquier County; it was a
question of a heavier and more immediate poison. The fact that Flagg
might in some desperate state drop in on us at any moment stared us in
the face. That was a very serious contingency, and it was one I could
not guard against. I had no false ideas touching my influence over
Washington Flagg. I did not dream of attempting to influence him; I
was powerless. I could do nothing but wait, and wonder what would
happen. There was nothing the man might not be capable of in some
In the meanwhile I was afraid to go out of an evening and leave
Clara alone. It was impossible for us to ask a friend to dinner,
though, indeed, we had not done that since my cousin dropped down on
us. It was no relief that his visits grew rarer and rarer; the
apprehension remained. It was no relief when they ceased altogether,
for it came to that at last.
A month had elapsed since he had called at the house. I had caught
sight of him once on Broadway as I was riding up town in an omnibus.
He was standing at the top of the steep flight of steps that led to
Herr Pfaff's saloon in the basement. It was probably Flagg's dinner
hour. Mrs. Morgan, the landlady in Macdougal Street, a melancholy
little soul, was now the only link between me and my kinsman. I had a
weekly interview with her. I learned that Mr. Flagg slept late, was
seldom in during the day, and usually returned after midnight. A
person with this eccentric scheme of life was not likely to be at home
at such hours as I might find it convenient to call. Nevertheless,
from time to time I knocked at the unresponsive door of his room. The
two notes I had written to him he left unanswered.
All this was very grievous. He had been a trouble to me when I had
him, and he was a trouble to me now I had lost him. My trouble had
merely changed its color. On what downward way were his footsteps?
What was to be the end of it? Sometimes I lay awake at night thinking
of him. Of course, if he went to the dogs, he had nobody to blame but
himself. I was not responsible for his wrong-going; nevertheless, I
could not throw off my anxiety in the matter. That Flagg was leading a
wild life in these days was presumable. Indeed, certain rumors to that
effect were indirectly blown to me from the caves of Gambrinus. Not
that I believe the bohemians demoralized him. He probably demoralized
the bohemians. I began to reflect whether fate had not behaved rather
handsomely, after all, in not giving me a great many relatives.
If I remember rightly, it was two months since I had laid eyes on
my cousin, when, on returning home one evening, I noticed that the
front door stood wide open, and had apparently been left to take care
of itself. As I mounted the steps, a little annoyed at Mary's
carelessness, I heard voices in the hall. Washington Flagg was
standing at the foot of the staircase, with his hand on the
newel-post, and Mrs. Wesley was halfway up the stairs, as if in the
act of descending. I learned later that she had occupied this position
for about three quarters of an hour. She was extremely pale and much
agitated. Flagg's flushed face and tilted hat told his part of the
story. He was not in one of his saturnine moods. He was amiably, and,
if I may say it, gracefully drunk, and evidently had all his wits
"I've been telling Mrs. Wesley," he began at once, as if I had been
present all the while, and he was politely lifting me into the
conversation—"I've been telling Mrs. Wesley that I'm a Lost Cause."
"A lost soul," was Mrs. Wesley's amendment from the staircase. "Oh,
Tom, I am so glad you have come! I thought you never would! I let him
in an hour or two ago, and he has kept me here ever since."
"You were so entertaining," said my cousin, with a courteous sweep
of his disengaged hand, and speaking with that correctness of
enunciation which sometimes survives everything.
"Flagg," I said, stepping to his side, "you will oblige me by
returning to your lodgings."
"You think I'm not all right?"
"I am sure of it."
"And you don't want me here, dear old boy?"
"No, I don't want you here. The time has come for me to be frank
with you, Flagg, and I see that your mind is clear enough to enable
you to understand what I say."
"I reckon I can follow you, Thomas."
"My stock of romantic nonsense about kinship and family duties, and
all that, has given out, and will not be renewed."
"Won't do business any more at the old stand?"
"Exactly so. I have done everything I could to help you, and you
have done nothing whatever for yourself. You have not even done
yourself the scant justice of treating Clara and me decently. In
future you will be obliged to look after your own affairs, financial
as well as social. Your best plan now is to go to work. I shall no
longer concern myself with your comings and goings, except so far as
to prevent you from coming here and disturbing Clara. Have you put
"Wesley, my boy, I'll pay you for this."
"If you do, it will be the first thing you have paid for since you
My statement, however accurate, was not wholly delicate, and I
subsequently regretted it, but when a patient man loses his patience
he goes to extremes. Washington Flagg straightened himself for an
instant, and then smiled upon me in an amused, patronizing way quite
"Thomas, that was neat, very neat—for you. When I see Judge
Ashburton Todhunter I'll tell him about it. It's the sort of mild joke
"I should be proud to have Judge Ashburton Todhunter's approval of
any remark of mine, but in the meanwhile it would be a greater
pleasure to me to have you return at once to Macdougal Street, where,
no doubt, Mrs. Morgan is delaying dinner for you."
"Say no more, Wesley. I'll never set foot in your house again, as
sure as my name is Flagg—and long may I wave o'er the land of the
free and the home of the brave."
"He is a kind of Flagg that I don't wish to have wave over MY
home," said Mrs. Wesley, descending the stairs as my cousin with
painful care closed the door softly behind him.
So the end was come. It had come with less unpleasantness than I
should have predicted. The ties of kindred, too tightly stretched, had
snapped; but they had snapped very gently, so to speak.
Washington Flagg was as good as his word, which is perhaps not a
strong indorsement. He never again set foot in my house. A week
afterward I found that he had quitted Macdougal Street.
"He has gone South," said Mrs. Morgan.
"Did he leave no message for me?"
"He didn't leave a message for nobody."
"Did he happen to say to what part of the South he was bound?"
"He said he was going back to Dixie's Land, and didn't say no
That was all. His departure had been as abrupt and unlocked for as
his arrival. I wondered if he would turn up again at the end of
another twenty years, and I wondered how he had paid his travelling
expenses to the land of the magnolia and the persimmon. That mystery
was solved a few days subsequently when a draft (for so reasonable a
sum as not to be worth mentioning to Clara) was presented to me for
payment at my office.
Washington Flagg was gone, but his shadow was to linger for a while
longer on our household. It was difficult to realize that the weight
which had oppressed us had been removed. We were scarcely conscious of
how heavy it had been until it was lifted. I was now and then forced
to make an effort not to expect the colonel to dinner.
A month or two after his disappearance an incident occurred which
brought him back very vividly and in a somewhat sinister shape to our
imaginations. Quite late one night there was a sharp ring at the door.
Mary having gone to bed, I answered the bell. On the doorstep stood a
tall, pale girl, rather shabbily dressed, but with a kind of beauty
about her; it seemed to flash from her eyelashes, which I noticed were
very heavy. The hall light fell full upon this slight figure, standing
there wrapped in an insufficient shawl, against a dense background of
whirling snowflakes. She asked if I could give her Colonel Flagg's
address. On receiving my reply, the girl swiftly descended the steps,
and vanished into the darkness. There was a tantalizing point of
romance and mystery to all this. As I slowly closed the front door I
felt that perhaps I was closing it on a tragedy—one of those piteous,
unwritten tragedies of the great city. I have wondered a thousand
times who that girl was and what became of her.
Before the end of the year another incident—this time with a touch
of comedy—lighted up the past of my kinsman. Among the travelling
agents for the Savonarola Fire Insurance Company was a young man by
the name of Brett, Charles Brett, a new employee. His family had been
ruined by the war, and he had wandered North, as the son of many a
Southern gentleman had been obliged to do, to earn his living. We
became friends, and frequently lunched together when his business
brought him to the city. Brett had been in the Confederate army, and
it occurred to me one day to ask him if he had ever known my cousin
the colonel. Brett was acquainted with a George W. Flagg; had known
him somewhat intimately, in fact; but it was probably not the same
man. We compared notes, and my Flagg was his Flagg.
"But he wasn't a colonel," said Brett. "Why, Flagg wasn't in the
war at all. I don't fancy he heard a gun fired, unless it went off by
accident in some training-camp for recruits. He got himself exempt
from service in the field by working in the government saltworks. A
heap of the boys escaped conscription that way."
In the saltworks! That connected my cousin with the navy rather
than with the army!
I would have liked not to believe Brett's statement, but it was so
circumstantial and precise as not to be doubted. Brett was far from
suspecting how deeply his information had cut me. In spite of my
loyalty, the discovery that my kinsman had not been a full-blown rebel
was vastly humiliating. How that once curiously regarded flower of
chivalry had withered! What about those reckless moonlight raids? What
had become of Prince Rupert, at the head of his plumed cavaliers,
sweeping through the valley of the Shenandoah, and dealing merited
destruction to the boys in blue? In view of Brett's startling
revelation, my kinsman's personal anecdotes of Stonewall Jackson took
on an amusing quality which they had not possessed for us in the
I was disappointed that Clara's astonishment was much more moderate
"He was TOO brave, Tom, dear. He always seemed to be overdoing it
just a grain, don't you think?"
I didn't think so at the time; I was afraid he was telling the
truth. And now, by one of those contradictions inseparable from weak
humanity, I regretted that he was not. A hero had tumbled from the
family pedestal—a misguided hero, to be sure, but still a hero. My
vanity, which in this case was of a complex kind, had received a
I did not recover from it for nearly three months, when I received
a second shock of a more serious nature. It came in the shape of a
letter, dated at Pensacola, Florida, and written by one Sylvester K.
Matthews, advising me that George Flagg had died of the yellow fever
in that city the previous month. I gathered from the letter that the
writer had been with my cousin through his illness, and was probably
an intimate friend; at all events the details of the funeral had
fallen to the charge of Mr. Matthews, who enclosed the receipted bills
with the remark that he had paid them, but supposed that I would
prefer to do so, leaving it, in a way, at my option.
The news of my cousin's death grieved me more than I should have
imagined beforehand. He had not appreciated my kindness; he had not
added to my happiness while I was endeavoring to secure his; he had
been flagrantly ungrateful, and in one or two minor matters had
deceived me. Yet, after all said and done, he was my cousin, my only
cousin—and he was dead. Let us criticise the living, but spare the
I put the memoranda back into the envelope; they consisted of a
bill for medical attendance, a board bill, the nurse's account, and an
undertaker's bill, with its pathetic and, to me, happily, unfamiliar
items. For the rest of the day I was unable to fix my attention on my
work, or to compose myself sufficiently to write to Mr. Matthews. I
quitted the office that evening an hour earlier than was my habit.
Whether Clara was deeply affected by what had happened, or whether
she disapproved of my taking upon myself expenses which, under the
peculiar circumstances, might properly be borne by Flagg's intimate
friend and comrade, was something I could not determine. She made no
comments. If she considered that I had already done all that my duty
demanded of me to do for my cousin, she was wise enough not to say so;
for she must have seen that I took a different and unalterable view of
it. Clara has her own way fifty-nine minutes out of the hour, but the
sixtieth minute is mine.
She was plainly not disposed to talk on the subject; but I wanted
to talk with some one on the subject; so, when dinner was through, I
put the Matthews papers into my pocket and went up to my friend
Bleeker's, in Seventeenth Street. Though a little cynical at times, he
was a man whose judgment I thought well of.
After reading the letter and glancing over the memoranda, Bleeker
turned to me and said, "You want to know how it strikes me—is that
"The man is dead?"
"And the bills are paid?"
"You see yourself they are receipted."
"Well, then," said Bleeker, "considering all things, I should let
well enough alone."
"You mean you would do nothing in the matter?"
"I should 'let the dead past bury its dead,' as Longfellow says."
Bleeker was always quoting Longfellow.
"But it isn't the dead past, it's the living present that has
attended to the business; and he has sent in his account with all the
items. I can't have this Matthews going about the country telling
everybody that I allowed him to pay my cousin's funeral expenses."
"Then pay them. You have come to me for advice after making up your
mind to follow your own course. That's just the way people do when
they really want to be advised. I've done it myself, Wesley—I've done
The result was, I sent Mr. Matthews a check, after which I
impulsively threw those dreadful bills into the office grate. I had no
right to do it, for the vouchers really belonged to Mr. Matthews, and
might be wanted some day; but they had haunted me like so many ghosts
until I destroyed them. I fell asleep that night trying to recollect
whether the items included a head-stone for my cousin's grave. I
couldn't for the life of me remember, and it troubled me not a little.
There were enough nameless graves in the South, without his being
added to the number.
One day, a fortnight later, as Clara and I were finishing dinner,
young Brett called at the house. I had supposed him to be in Omaha. He
had, in effect, just come from there and elsewhere on one of his long
business tours, and had arrived in the city too late in the afternoon
to report himself at the office. He now dropped in merely for a
moment, but we persuaded him to remain and share the dessert with us.
I purposed to keep him until Clara left us to our cigars. I wished to
tell him of my cousin's death, which I did not care to do, while she
was at the table. We were talking of this and that, when Brett looked
up, and said rather abruptly—
"By the way, I saw Flagg on the street the other day in Mobile. He
was looking well."
The bit of melon I had in my mouth refused to be swallowed. I fancy
that my face was a study. A dead silence followed; and then my wife
reached across the table, and pressing my hand, said very gently—
"Wesley, you were not brilliant, but you were good."
All this was longer ago than I care to remember. I heard no more
from Mr. Matthews. Last week, oddly enough, while glancing over a file
of recent Southern newspapers, I came upon the announcement of the
death of George W. Flagg. It was yellow fever this time also. If later
on I receive any bills in connection with that event, I shall let my
friend Bleeker audit them.